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Tibet, a forgotten pending issue at the UN?

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(TibetanReview.net, Oct11’22) – The question may now be of only academic relevance, with no real chance of success if pursued, given China’s overwhelming dominance of the United Nations system. Still, it bears asking: Does the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) have a Tibet case that has been pending since Nov 1950?

A Canadian scholar, Claudia Johnston, went through the old UN files two decades ago and found that following India’s assurances that it would “sort out the Tibet issue peacefully with China”, the case of the then independent Tibet’s plea for intervention to save it from Beijing’s territorial aggression was still pending in the world body, noted Tibet expert Claude Arp in a piece which appeared on the firstpost.com Oct 11.

China’s move to occupy and annex Tibet began with an armed aggression in early Oct 1950. When the latter finally decided by the end of the month to appeal to the UNGA and approached India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru replied that his government certainly would support an appeal from Tibet, but that it was not ready to sponsor the case. India, at that time, was actively supporting Communist China’s admission in the UN, with a seat in the Security Council, and was not prepared to change its general policy of being pro-China. This was made clear by Nehru in a Nov 1 cable to BN Rau, the Indian Representative in the UN.

And so, on Nov 7, 1950, the Government of Tibet cabled an appeal to the UN, stating “the Tibetans were racially, culturally and geographically far apart from the Chinese… The problem is not of Tibet’s own making but is largely the outcome of unthwarted Chinese ambitions to bring weaker nations on her periphery within her active domination”.

The appeal continued: “This unwarranted act of aggression has not only disturbed the peace of Tibet, but is in complete disregard of the solemn assurance given by the Chinese to the Government of India… The problem is simple. The Chinese claim Tibet as part of China.”

It concluded that Lhasa hoped that “the conscience of the world would not allow the disruption of our State by methods reminiscent of the jungle”.

On Nov 15, El Salvador requested the Secretary-General to list the Tibetan appeal on the Agenda of the General Assembly. A procedural battle on its admission or admissibility continued over the following days.

India made clear its objection to the appeal’s admission. On Nov 20, in a cable to BN Rau, Nehru affirmed: “Draft resolution of El Salvador completely ignores realities of situation and overlooks fact that only result of passing such a resolution will be to precipitate conquest of Tibet and destruction of Tibetan independence and perhaps even autonomy.”

Britain initially accepted the fact that Tibet was a separate State, thereby making the appeal admissible. In doing so, Britain referred to the fact that it had concluded a tripartite Convention with China and Tibet in 1914 in Simla (and agreed to the McMahon Line with India), that the Chinese had been expelled from Tibet in 1911, and that Tibet had declared her independence two years later.

The fact that Tibet had from 1911 to 1950 kept control of her internal as well as external affairs certainly qualified it under Article 35 (2) of the UN Charter as a separate State.

However, this was a big problem to Britain itself, which therefore sought to dilute that view. If the opinion of the legal cell of the Foreign Office (stating that Tibet was a separate State) was not changed, the logical conclusion would be that a firm stand (and action) would have to be taken. As a consequence, the UN would have to accept that an aggression had been committed and as a result pressures would be exerted by the community of nations to take an action in favour of Tibet. But nobody wanted to take action!

Arpi quotes the British Representative to the UN as having, therefore, concluded thus: “I greatly hope therefore that I shall be instructed when and if the Indians raise this matter in the Security Council, to argue to the general effect that the legal situation is extremely obscure and that in any case Tibet cannot be considered as a fully independent country.”

Britain and the US had made their position known, namely, they would support the stand of the Government of India. But Nehru, at the last moment, backed out of the understanding India had given to Tibet not to sponsor but support its plea.

Nehru, in fact, requested Washington to refrain from publicity condemning China for its action in Tibet for fear that such condemnation might give credence to China’s claims that Western powers had an interest in Tibet and that the Americans were exerting an influence over Indian policy.

In words, which Arpi sees as appalling, Nehru wrote: “We cannot save Tibet, as we should have liked to do so, and our very attempts to save it might bring greater trouble to it.”

India then informed the UN that it would sort out the issue peacefully with China. And that put an end to the saga of Tibet’s appeal to the world body. Or did it?

A couple of decades ago, a Canadian scholar, Claudia Johnston, went through the old UN files and found out that following India’s assurance, the Tibet issue was still pending in the UN, Arpi points out.


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